Huebner: Taking Myself Out of the Race

What incentive is there for students to go into public service?

by Julia Huebner | 1/25/18 12:30am

Don’t lie to yourself: At six years old, all of us secretly dreamed of being President of the United States. The grandiose ceremonies, the household name brand and, well, the power to help. What wasn’t enticing about that?

That pipe dream stayed with me for a little too long. Fifteen-year-old Julia was trying to reason a way to work in policy even before she knew where she would go to college: “Okay, president might be farfetched, but a civil servant in Chicago? That’s achievable. Or maybe I’ll be the next Anderson Cooper or Savannah Guthrie or Brian Williams.”

As much as I hate to admit this, I was the kid who wrote about political gridlock and bipartisanship for my Dartmouth supplement essay (I don’t know why the College let me in, either).

Like many of us, the veneration I had of the presidency began to crumble on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. There are over 320 million eligible voters in the United States, and we pick the one who bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy?” I’m horrified to be retyping that now.

Nevertheless, I was determined. Some bully in the White House wasn’t going to wither my interest in policy. This past summer, I had the opportunity to work for a federal agency in Washington, D.C. — little Julia would be so proud. I remember beaming as I texted a picture of my freshly-minted government ID to my parents.

The work itself was fascinating. My co-workers were kinder and far more patient than I deserved. But national news was a circus. Without cable news, I’d see or read snippets of Trump’s latest insults: Accusing Mika Brzezinski of bleeding badly from a facelift, praising the “good shape” of France’s first lady and the daily bashing of “fake news” organizations. Advisors and national security leaders were being fired at a rate formerly reserved for soap operas.

And every morning as I walked into the main lobby at work, I passed under two framed letter-sized portraits of Donald Trump and Mike Pence.

At some point during the summer, I turned off my CNN news updates. Although I attempted to read the Fox News opinion section to diversify my understanding of national news, that worked for about a day and a half.

Even The New York Times opinion section became too much. When the Times released the list of most-read columns by regular columnist on Dec. 28 2017, I noticed that 13 of the 14 columns most-read mentioned Trump. These columnists — Charles Blow, David Brooks, Frank Bruni, Gail Collins, Maureen Dowd — are my celebrity crushes, and their most-read literary accomplishments of the last year revolved around a doofus. Only Nicholas Kristof escaped the hysteria — and to be fair, his most-read column wasn’t much lighter: “11 Years Old, a Mom, and Pushed to Marry Her Rapist in Florida.”

Nowadays, when I read the headlines about “s—hole countries” and government shutdowns, I scroll away in disgust, not even making it to the body of the article. The fact that our college paper uses euphemisms in place of Trump’s word choice should speak for itself.

This question is this: What incentive is there for me — or any other young person — to go into public service? Why live in D.C. when national news makes me want to pretend I live in 2012? Why write policy briefs that might be ignored by ignorant appointees for partisan reasons?

I understand the counterarguments. Some argue that rhetoric like mine is the reason why “they’ll win.” Trump’s influx of ridiculous news tires the left while fueling his alt-right base. Others say that that there are a ton of smart, pragmatic “lifers” in D.C., like the folks I worked with this summer, who understand that political pendulum swings are part of their business. Four years of wins, four years of woe: rinse and repeat. Or, as my government major friends will remind me, I shouldn’t forget that workplace politics aren’t a government problem. The private sector has its fair share of creepy bosses, as 2017 taught us well.

But I don’t think it’s too much to ask that, when I’m a 22-year-old graduate, I should be able to actually take pride in where I choose to work and for whom I choose to work.

In my perfect world, 20 years from now, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program will be intact, the wall will not have been built and immigrants of all countries will be able to find opportunity in the United States. Individual policies will shift with the whims of the man or woman in the Oval Office. Stunting the pipeline of civil servants will have far more systemic and sinister effects on talent in the capital.